Developing professional networks - what social network analysis teaches us

Social network analysis has been used to measure the impact of the DREaM project which set out to nurture a network of researchers.Social Network Analysis (SNA) explores social relationships and their implications.  As a research methodology, it is employed by a range of subject specialists, and is much favoured by knowledge management practitioners seeking to explore the 'human' aspects of knowledge mobilisation.A new article by Louise Cooke and Hazel Hall* explores the applicability and value of Social Network Analysis (SNA) as a means of investigating the development of researcher networks. The authors believe that their study provides transferable lessons about SNA as a tool as well as the interventions that can encourage speedy development of social infrastructure in new networks, which are applicable across professional groups.After a discussion about the development of SNA as a research tool and its previous use in the context of library and information science (LIS), the article reports on a case study based on the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project.DREaM was established in 2011 to create, and support the development of, a network of LIS researchers, connecting them in new ways and improving the quality and impact of LIS research. It is this case study that will be of most interest to LIS practitioners.What does the ‘before' and ‘after' data from the case study tell us about how strong professional networks can be nurtured?Key findings

  • 'before' data shows that members of this participant network were not highly connected or aware of each other's expertise: existing networks were highly centralised around a small number of academic librarians and researchers
  • 'after' data shows a demonstrable increase in expertise awareness and interaction; participants had increased their number of network ties; the network became more 'even' with less dependence on a small number of densely networked actors; academic librarians in particular moved towards the centre of the network
What was it about the way the DREaM project was designed that helped develop the network?The authors suggest that the combination of workshops, social events, networking opportunities, the development of an online community and the effective use of social media tools:
  • Reduced the isolation of participants
  • Helped participants exchange ideas and broaden their knowledge base
  • Provided opportunities for participants to exchange sources of information and references
A range of event amplification techniques (live-blogging/tweeting; delegate reviews; session recordings and many more) also helped those unable to attend events in person, to participate in the network remotely.This inclusive, boundary-spanning approach helped the participants double their awareness of each other's expertise and almost double their levels of social interaction.---------------------*Cooke, L. & Hall, H. (2013). Facets of DREaM: a Social Network Analysis exploring network development in the UK LIS research community. Journal of Documentation, 69(6), 786-806.Further information about the article (Hazel Hall's blog).  You can download the full text of the article from Emerald (subscription-based service).  You can download the full-text of the article manuscript at no charge here.   Further information on the DREaM project can be found here.[Follow Val Skelton on Google+